Over the decades, the breathtaking ruins that bring thousands of tourists to Peru each year have gone to Machu Picchu or Quechua as the “old mountain”, the language of the Incas, spoken by millions today.
The name signifies the settlement of the Andes on the Urubamba River valley and all signs of welcoming visitors on a train ride from Cusco, the ancient Inca capital. The Peruvian Ministry of Culture has a page dedicated to its history that links to tickets.
But the name of the city, built by the Incas in the 15th century, was technically Huana Pichu, or “new mountain,” according to researchers who dug through the 1500s documents to verify the original monkey.
Donato Amado Gonzalez, a historian at the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, and Brian S. Bauer, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote: An article published online last August in Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archeology. Their results were announced by the university last month.
The findings “dispel the myth that Machu Picchu was an eternally lost city,” said Mark Rice, a history professor at Non Baruch College who was involved in the study. “Like most Andes, the site has been and continues to be a dynamic place with a changing history,” he said.
The ruins became widely known as Machu Picchu after 1911, when Hiram Bingham, a lecturer at Yale University, began visiting the area and published details of his travels. In 1913, the New York Times credited Bingham with finding a “city lost in the clouds.”
“He just announced that he had the great privilege of discovering an entire city,” the article reads, adding that it was “a place of magnificent palaces and temples and terrifying walls.”
“He calls it Machu Picchu,” the newspaper said.
Two families were living next to the site when Bingham first arrived, and documents show that other people knew about the wreckage before he visited. But according to historians, it was the professor who told the rest of the world about this city.
Bingham apparently heard the name Machu Picchu from Melchoor Artega, a tenant farmer who lived on the valley floor and worked as Bingham’s guide during the wreckage, according to the article.
Bingham also heard it as Huana Pichu, co-author of the article. Amado Gonzalez said in an interview.
Ignacio Ferro, son of a landowner near the ruins, told Bingham that the name of the ruined town was Juana Pichu. And 19th century documents, including a map of the region, which bears the name.
But for unknown reasons, Bingham went with Artegar’s claim.
“He accepted what they told him at that moment,” said Dr. Amado Gonzalez.
Still, Bingham was not sure if his name was correct. In 1922, he wrote an article warning that other documents show that the name of the city was not Machu Picchu, said Dr. Amado Gonzalez.
Professor Bauer says he and Dr. Amado Gonzalez have been studying such documents independently for at least 10 years, based on evidence that the city’s real name is Juana Pichu.
“Realizing we’re both working on the same thing, we’ve decided to merge our databases,” Professor Bauer said in an email.
Their searches are based on Bingham’s notes and other materials related to his work on the site, as well as preliminary maps and atlases describing territorial and land documents in the regional, national and Spanish archives.
An “extraordinary document” from 1588 describes the concerns of Spanish invaders who are planning to leave Cusco and “re-occupy” a site called Juana Pichu, according to the researchers’ article.
The findings are not surprising, says Bruce Mannheim, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the research but knows both authors and who once taught Professor Bauer.
“They are two leading, very eminent scholars who are very careful researchers,” says Professor Mannheim. “I take what they write seriously.”
Anthropologists and historians who have studied documents about the area have come across writings that reveal the real name of the city, he said. However, scholars have not written about the name before or suppressed the matter.
“There is no percentage to revise tour operators,” said Professor Mannheim. “We’re effectively policing other people’s language and no one really wants to.”
Still, it is better to record the real name in a scholarly record, he said.
Dr. Amado Gonzalez said it would be an “excess” to call the city Machu Picchu a mistake for so many years.
“The city, the city of Inca, is in the jurisdiction of the Huana Pichu,” he said. But Machu Picchu is not a word coined by Bingham – it is the Quechua name for the larger mountain range to the north of the ancient site. Huana Pichu is the name of a small peak to the south.
Archaeological Inca remains remain on top of Machu Picchu, and 19th-century documents indicate that the people of the region called the city Machu Picchu, says Dr. Amado Gonzalez.
In other words, tour operators do not have to start their own correction.
“You don’t have to change your name,” said Dr. Amado Gonzalez.
The name Machu Picchu is so ingrained in the public and part of Peru’s identity that it is impossible to replace it, says Natalia Sobrevilla Pereira, a Professor of Latin American History at the University of Kent.
“In a sense, it doesn’t make that much of a difference,” he said. “They are both tribal names. It’s not that a Spanish name has changed from an Indigenous name. “
The government of Peru and the people of the country are “very attached” to the name Machu Picchu as “a national symbol and an archeological symbol,” said Professor Sobrevilla Perea.
“It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World,” he said. “It’s something Peruvians are very proud of.”
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